Labels have become a normal part of our lives. We check labels to know the ingredients of the food we eat and find out how much fats, carbs, and proteins they have. We read labels to know how to care for our clothes, what substances are in our shampoos and other grooming products, and where the things we buy are manufactured.
But the power of labels go beyond the things around us. It can also be used to lift ourselves up — or put others down.
Labels can be harmful if we use them to put people in a box and/or make fun of them. Stupid, dumb, retarded — these are the adjectives we use on those who have ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions that make learning difficult. Slut, whore, bitch — these are the slurs we use on women who are confident enough to express themselves and embrace their sexuality. Homo, fag, abnormal — these are the words we use to describe people who don’t adhere to gender norms.
Labeling others is hurtful and useless. It doesn’t really accomplish anything. Some people might argue that labels help them understand others much better; for instance, knowing that someone has ADHD or has experienced sexual abuse might help his friends and family understand why he behaves in a certain way. While this might be true, I think it would be better for us to go beyond the labels. We tend to be focused too much labeling others and putting them in a box; it’s time to get these things out of the way and take the time to really know the person behind all the terms and legalities.
I don’t think labels are entirely bad, though. In fact, I think they can be a useful tool in helping us learn more about ourselves and eventually accept our strengths and weaknesses.
I experienced the positive effect of labels a couple of months ago. For years, I struggled to define myself: I look and feel like a woman, and I know I am a woman inside and out, but I’m attracted to men and masculine-presenting women. My friends told me I was bisexual (because I liked males and technically females), but I argued that I was straight (since I wasn’t attracted to “traditional” girls, i.e. feminine women like me).
It wasn’t until early this year when I stumbled across the term “cisgender and bisexual”. When I learned what it meant, I immediately knew that this was it. My reaction was, “Holy shit. This is ME. This is who I am.”
It might not be a big deal for you, but it sure was (and still am) for me. I’ve solved the mystery of one of the aspects of my life, and I now have another label to add to the list of terms that I use to describe myself. Minimalist. Bookworm. Introvert. INFJ. Coffee addict. Writer. Dog lover.
Cisgender and bisexual.
I’ve accepted my sexuality a long time ago, but it wasn’t until now that I have a label for it. A label that I can proudly use to describe myself. A label that helps me become more comfortable in my skin.
I can now stop asking, “Who am I? What am I?” I no longer have to wonder if I’m a freak of nature because I now know that there are others like me. All I have to do is to do a Google search with the words “cisgender and bisexual”, and I’ll find a list of pages full of stories from people who have labeled themselves the same way. People who are like me, who have gone through similar experiences and understand how tough and beautiful the journey is.
Of course, the positive effect of labels doesn’t just apply to gender and sexuality.
The acronym “INFJ”, for example, has helped me understand why I’m weirder than other people and why I’ve always felt alone and out place since I was a child. The term “minimalist” has helped me connect with other people who share my outlook on consumption and ownership and want to build more meaningful lives. The label “writer” has given me the confidence to pursue what I love to do, continue improving my writing skills, and work towards my goal of publishing a book that’s worth reading.
What are YOUR self-labels?
You’ve probably already started giving labeling yourself. If not, why not give it a try? Acknowledging your hobbies is a good place to start since it transforms you from a “doer” to a “being”. Instead of saying “I love baking”, for example, you might say “I’m a baker”; instead of stating “I like to surf”, you can claim “I’m a surfer”. It doesn’t really matter if you’re not a professional baker or if you don’t join (or win) any surfing contests. The transformation from passive “doing” to active “being” is usually enough to boost your confidence and make you feel great about yourself.
Even the simplest of labels have the power to transform your life if you take the time to understand their true meaning. Calling yourself a mother or a father means you’re blessed to have your own children, either biologically or through adoption. Calling yourself a son, a daughter, a brother, or a sister means you’re lucky enough to have a family who’s there for you through thick and thin. Calling yourself a pet owner or a pet parent means you have a dog, a cat, or any other pet who loves you unconditionally. Calling yourself a homeowner or a renter means you have a house, an apartment, or even a room that provides you with shelter and keeps you safe and warm.
Self-labeling is a powerful tool, and using positive labels for ourselves can lead to a more positive outlook in life.
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (aka The Minimalists) once said that we shouldn’t define ourselves based on our job titles, and I completely agree. It’s not advisable to base our self-worth on the impact of our job titles — or on the kind of car we drive, the type of house we own, the amount of money in our bank accounts, and other external factors. However, it can be helpful to use the power of labels on our inner selves. By properly labeling ourselves, we’ll get to know who we truly are, appreciate our blessings, and love ourselves more than ever.